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The Grey Skies of Summer

Sona Berhane

“There is something about the rain,

At night,

In the Summer.”

The scorching grip of May and July loosens its hold as the first summer rains arrive, not in a dramatic downpour, but a gentle drizzle that washes away the dust of the dry season. Gone is the blistering midday sun. Now, benevolent dark clouds drape the heavens, their bellies heavy with the promise of more rain. They cast a welcome shade from the oppressive heat. This isn’t your typical summer, awash in sunshine and scorching temperatures. Summer in Asmara unfolds in a prolonged drizzle, a persistent chill that hangs in the air, more akin to a playful nip than a bone-chilling bite. It’s a season that calls for cozy sweaters and scarves, a stark contrast to the bare arms and legs of the preceding months.

But the true magic of this summer lies in its scents: the petrichor-laced fragrance of the ever-damp soil infusing the atmosphere with an earthy scent that soothes the soul. Ours is not a summer marked by the sharp perfume of sunbaked meadows, but by the heady humidity of nature. As twilight descends, the savory smoke of coffee ceremonies, with their fragrant incense, seep into the air. This is a time for gathering around crackling farnellos. The aroma of roasting coffee beans mingles with the damp air. The company of loved ones becomes precious during these long, drizzly evenings – made even more so by the sharing of stories, and of laughter.

In the evenings, the downtown streets transform into a scene reminiscent of John Singer Sargent’s paintings. Streetlights twinkle, their reflections dancing on the rain-slick windows, car headlights cast shimmering trails across puddles collecting by the sidewalks. The familiar brick buildings deepen in color, washed clean and bright. The trees, revitalized by the rain, stand a little taller, their leaves a richer, more dazzling shade of green. The vibrant bougainvillea, wilting for so long under the relentless sun, explodes in a riot of color – purples, reds and oranges splashed across the urban landscape. It’s a sight to behold, and one I hadn’t realized I missed so much.

As a child, summer meant freedom. It was the official closing of the school year, a gateway to unending hours spent playing under the open sky. I remember morning filled with anticipation, gazing at the clouds in all directions, trying to decipher the day’s weather and plan my adventures accordingly. Of course, these predictions were invariably wrong. One moment I would be engrossed in a game, the next, the first fat drops of rain would plop down sending us scrambling to gather our glass marbles and scamper home, shrieking with laughter. Today, watching children recreate their own imaginative games under the watchful eye of the rain clouds brings a smile to my face. The joy and freedom that summer embodies transforms the wet sidewalks into playgrounds for endless games.

Another local staple of our summer is, of course, the delicious prickly pear. Vendors line the street corners with freshly picked, scrumptious prickly pears, and after a good, cleansing downpour, everyone heads out with a bowl to buy the juicy summer treats.

Our summer, with its subdued beauty and melancholic charm, leaves a nostalgic mark on the memory. It’s a season that reminds us that beauty comes in many forms, not just the stereotypically sundrenched version. It’s a season that invites us to slow down, to appreciate the quiet moments of the heavy rains, and to rediscover the joys in this rhythm of life.

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